Innovation, collaboration and Leadership are words that come with baggage. Even excess baggage, given how much has been said and written about them, covering a broad spectrum from deeply insightful to absolutely useless. Today on Amazon, you can choose from 44,143 books on innovation, 8,571 on collaboration and 86,379 on leadership. I would be surprised if more than 10 per cent were worth the paper they’re printed on.
The challenge when you work at the intersection of those three domains – as I do – is that you come across a high level of scepticism and remarkably powerful bulls*** filters. Executives have developed defence mechanisms against charlatans claiming some form of expertise to a point that borders between what’s valuable or not are undiscerning. Nevertheless, when you dig a little, you discover that this claimed complexity is often an excuse to not venture out of known and the predictable.
Take innovation, for example, and its typical misconceptions: “It’s only focusing on products and services”; “It won’t deliver the short-term results that are expected from me”; “It requires creativity and I’m not creative”; “We have an innovation team… it’s their job” etc. Such beliefs tend to oppose “innovation” and “business as usual” and in doing so, shifts responsibility away from anyone in the organisation not explicitly tasked with innovating and supposedly skilled for it.
This polarisation is counterproductive and explains most of unhealthy status quo in large organisations. Innovation is not a task, a role or a purpose in itself. It’s a different way of tackling everyday business challenges and opportunities. In that respect, we can learn some simple lessons from organisations that nurture a widespread innovation culture.
Innovation is everywhere: It can impact any single attribute of your business model, client-facing or not. It can go as far as the emergence of brand new business models but it doesn’t have to.
Innovation is multi-form: It can improve your customer value proposition as much as your employee value proposition and it can do so in many ways. Small to big, cheap to expensive, incremental to disruptive, conceptual to practical. The value created can also take multiple forms: extra revenue, productivity gains, speed, simplicity, workplace attractiveness, image, etc., most of which can be measured.
Innovation is a mindset: More than an item in a job description, it‘s about allowing yourself and others to experiment with different ways of thinking, doing and interacting. Whether it’s about the elaboration of a five-year strategic plan or the improvement of an expense process doesn’t matter. Just embrace the idea that different can potentially be valuable, especially if same doesn’t quite work.
Innovation is everyone’s responsibility: Allowing yourself and others to experiment with ‘new ways’ makes us all innovators. Have you ever heard a case of open innovation experimentation that didn’t deliver hundreds of ideas and at least a few very good ones? Most people have way more to contribute than they are hired for, and anyone can decide to tap into some of this potential.
Mind you, this leads to an unambiguous conclusion: wherever you sit in the organisation, innovation is your responsibility.
At a generic level, a healthy habit is to regularly and purposefully reflect on a number of questions around how you work on a day-to-day basis:
– Who do you involve in what activities and why?
– What is the split of your time between thinking and doing?
– How much emphasis do you put on the quality of your workplace?
– What behaviours do you encourage, consciously or not?
– Where do you get inspiration?
– How much space do you make for surprises, contradiction and divergent views?
Exploring these, alone or with carefully selected conversation partners, can uncover new, potentially valuable perspectives. At a deeper level, however, it boils down to your own perception of your role in the organisation and the impact you want to have.
1. How disruptive do you aspire to be? Have you been brought in to disrupt or secure? Regardless of your mandate, how developed is your appetite for change and risk-taking?
2. What time horizons do you put yourself into? Are you working towards short-term targets and objectives; do you structure your contribution in light of your mandate in the organisation; or do you work across generations to build a legacy in the company’s long-term journey?
There’s enough evidence out there of the potential you can unleash by questioning established models and tapping into the huge potential within your own organisation and its direct ecosystem. As a leader, if and how you want to do it are the questions you need to answer.